Here’s how I made the turnovers for Thanksgiving.
1 pound fresh chanterelles
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup shallot, minced (1 large or 2 small)
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon fresh marjoram leaves
a 1-lb. package of frozen puff pastry dough
Clean the chanterelles with a mushroom brush or a damp paper towel, making sure you rid them of all dirt, grit, leaves, and conifer needles. Chop them roughly.
Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat and add the chanterelles and the shallots. Allow them to cook rather slowly until the shallots are clear and the mushrooms have given all nearly all of their liquid and the buttery sauce in the bottom of the pan has begun to thicken. If you salt the mushrooms early on, the salt will help draw the liquid from them. Season to taste with more salt if necessary and with freshly ground black pepper. Remove from the heat, toss in the fresh marjoram leaves, and place on a plate to cool. I put it in the refrigerator to hasten the process.
Remove the puff pastry from the freezer; it will take about 20 minutes to thaw. Working quickly, but methodically, lightly dust a counter with flour and roll out one of the sheets of puff pastry to form a 12″ square. Cut the puff pastry into 9 equal 4″squares. Put a spoonful of the mushroom mixture in the center of each square. Lightly paint two perpendicular edges of each square with water and fold over the opposite edges down to meet the wet sides, forming triangles. Press the edges together with the tines of a fork, sealing them. Place them carefully on a baking sheet and repeat with the second sheet of pastry dough.
Beat the egg with 2 tablespoons of water and paint the top of each turnover with the egg mixture, being sure not to let any of the mixture drip onto the baking sheet. If it does, wipe it up or it will burn and cause the turnovers to stick. Refrigerate the trays and preheat the oven to 400o.
When the oven is preheated, remove the turnovers from the refrigerator and paint them again with the egg wash, being sure not to let any drip onto the pan.
Bake the turnovers for about 20 minutes, or until golden brown. Serve while warm.
Just a few notes before I have to go…. We’re having Thanksgiving dinner at the home of friends today, but I’m helping out quite a bit. I’m going over to their house this morning to pick up the turkey parts to make stock for the cornbread dressing (Make the cornbread, crumble it, take a stick of butter and sauté some celery and onions, add to the bread with some fresh and dried herbs (sage is traditional), add a beaten egg or two, toss together, put in a buttered casserole dish and fill up with as much stock as it will hold. Bake until the stock is absorbed and the top browns, about a half hour or so. Serve with giblet gravy (the poached giblets and picked pieces of the neck and wing tips added to a hard-boiled egg. Make a paste of a little flour and stock and add to some of the turkey drippings or butter in a skillet, cook for 3 to 5 minutes, stir in stock a little at a time, stirring constantly and adding stock and reducing until you have the thickness you desire. Add the giblets, season to taste, serve with the turkey and dressing).
Will 6 pounds of pimiento cheese be enough? (For recipe see December 27, 2007.)
I’ve also got an 8-layer caramel cake from Main Street Café in Pamplico, South Carolina. Laura Haines Walkup is the baker and you can reach her at (843) 493-2091 or email@example.com.
But now I really have to get to work! I hope each and every one of you have a wonderful holiday! (Photo of ham biscuits by Kelly Bugden for Metropolitan Home.)
I also made fruitcakes. They’ll be ready for Christmas.
Today is my “daughter” Ella Grace Downs’s 20th birthday. How is it possible that 20 years have gone by since this photo was taken? She’s now a sophomore at the University of Georgia (both my and her mother’s alma mater) where she is on full scholarship and hosting her own radio show on the campus radio station on Wednesdays at 6:30pm. It streams live here.
Yesterday we took a walk along the C&O Canal that runs between here and Cumberland, Maryland, and then went to try out Pizzeria Orso where Edan and Thea MacQuaid, formerly of Two Amys, are whipping out some of the best pies I’ve ever had.
We splurged and opted for the Orso Vera, with white truffles. Kudos to this new spot out in Falls Church!
November 16, 2010 Pan-Fried Quail with Onion Gravy
I was so depressed weekend before last, missing my dog and all stopped up with a cold, that I got up and made a big country breakfast of stone-ground grits, scrambled eggs (see April 9), pan-fried quail, onion gravy, and lard biscuits, served with homemade fig preserves. I’ve been cooking my grits in my Charleston rice steamer lately, 3 parts water to one part grits. They’re done in less than a half hour!
Pan-Fried Quail with Onion Gravy
Serve one of these birds to each person as an appetizer for a big celebratory meal such as Christmas or a rehearsal dinner, or two as the main course. I go ahead and give everyone a hand towel and tell folks to use their fingers. It’s really the only way, however messy, to get at the delicious little bits of flesh.
quails, dressed for cooking
salt, pepper, and cayenne
lard or peanut oil for frying
water, milk, or stock
Preheat the oven to its lowest setting and place a cooking rack over a sheet pan in the oven. Rinse the quails, pat dry, then season with salt and pepper. Season the flour with salt, pepper, and cayenne to taste. A cup of flour is enough for 6 to 12 quail; to each cup of flour, add a teaspoon of salt, a teaspoon of pepper, and ¼ teaspoon of cayenne. Dust the quail in the flour (I shake them in a heavy paper bag. Fry the quails until they are golden brown in hot oil, turning once. Remove to the rack in the oven to stay warm while you prepare the gravy. Turn off the heat on the pan and our off most of the grease, leaving the delicious little bits of browned flour and a tablespoon or so of grease, depending on how much gravy you’re making. Add a tablespoon or so of the leftover dusting flour, stirring constantly. The pan should still be hot, so you probably won’t need to turn it back on yet. You don’t want to cook it so hot that the flour browns. Cook the flour for about three minutes, then turn the heat up to medium high and, stirring constantly, add your liquid, constantly stirring. Keep adding liquid and cooking and stirring until the gravy is just shy of the desired consistency. Grate some raw onion into it, continue stirring, and turn down the heat while you season to taste. Add more liquid if needed. A heavy hand with the pepper mill is a good idea. Transfer the gravy to a gravy boat if desired. Remove the birds from the oven to plates. Pour the sauce over the birds or grits, or let diners do it themselves.
And here are my go-to biscuits, the ones I love to make at home, from my first book:
Biscuits from Hoppin’ John’s Lowcountry Cooking
No bread is more misunderstood than the lowly Southern biscuit. Fast food restaurants across America have made biscuits an everyday word throughout the country, but they have been taken so far out of context that even respectable Southern restaurants are now serving biscuits at dinner, with steaks or fried fish, when yeast rolls and cornbread would be appropriate.
The text and recipes in Bill Neal’s Southern Cooking are excellent, and both Elizabeth David and Karen Hess have tackled the history of chemical leavenings and quick breads. But the perfect biscuit? It’s largely in the choice of flour. If you don’t live in the South, try to find a soft Southern flour to make biscuits. Several companies such as White Lily distribute their flours nationally. And handle the dough as little as possible.
Biscuits are the classic quick breakfast bread throughout the South, chemically leavened with baking powder, which is a mixture of an acid and a base. I make my own with a little cream of tartar and baking soda in order to avoid the metallic taste of aluminum sulfate in the commercial brands. These are my favorite biscuits, perfect for topping with sour cream and fig preserves or served alongside fried quail and gravy. The humidity of the day always affects baked goods, so be sure to weigh the flour (which can absorb moisture and make biscuits tough).
12 ounces of a soft Southern flour (see above), about 3 cups, plus a little extra for dusting
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon salt
3 ounces chilled lard
3/4 cup buttermilk
Preheat the oven to 425o. Sift the flour, the soda, the cream of tartar, and the salt together into a large mixing bowl. Cut in the lard with a pastry blender or two knives until it is uniformly incorporated into the flour and there are no large clumps. Working swiftly, fold in the buttermilk a little at a time with a rubber spatula until it is just blended in smoothly.
Dust a countertop lightly with some flour and scoop up the dough onto the counter with the spatula. Lightly work the dough, working only with the fingertips, until it is evenly blended. Roll it out about 1/2″ thick and cut into ten 2″ biscuits, using a clean metal biscuit cutter dipped in flour, and a quick, clean motion. Do not twist the biscuit cutter; you should be punching the biscuits out of the dough. Place the biscuits close to each other on a baking sheet and bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until the tops are lightly golden brown. Serve immediately with butter and sorghum and homemade preserves.
November 15, 2010
We’ve been home from vacation for two weeks but it seems like two years. When we got home, the health of our wonderful dog, a 10-year-old standard poodle (no topiary cut!), who had back problems, had declined so much that we had to have him put down. He was loved by all, and worked for years as a Therapy Dog, bringing joy to folks in nursing homes, schools, and hospitals. He never did anything wrong and was as gentle as a lamb. People who had never before liked dogs lined up to care for him when we were out of town. He has been my companion at home, where I work, since he was a puppy and we will miss him horribly.
The stress got to me and I came down with a nasty cold, so I haven’t been cooking much. When we first got home, I ran to the store for salad fixin’s, and made a quiche with all the leftovers in the refrigerator. We don’t eat many dairy products as a rule, but there were tag-ends of several cheeses — a couple of blues, some Swiss that our dog-sitter had bought, and some goat cheese. She also had left a cup or so of half-and-half and a few eggs, so I cooked off some onions in some butter and added them to the rest of the ingredients and poured them into a quickly tossed-together pie crust. I also removed a ham bone from the freezer to make soup with some beans I had received in the mail as a birthday gift, and cut off the remaining pieces of meat and added them. I bake quiches at about 375o for about a half hour, or until a silver knife slipped into the custard comes out clean.
The next day I went to Costco, because it was chanterelle season. Every year at about this time, I find beautiful chanterelles at Costco for $9/lb, so I buy a bunch. After leaving the height of mushroom season in Provence, I wanted something to cheer me up in light of the dismal news about our dog. Plus I was depressed not having the French markets, butchers, and bakers on every corner. I also found gorgeous, thick-sliced veal shanks at Costco, and made osso buco one night before I came down with this cold. I ran a perfect osso buco recipe on October 30 two years ago, and on September 3 last year I wrote extensively about chanterelles. But I did not give recipes for the basic omelet that is the best way to show off chanterelles, nor did I give a recipe for the risotto alla milanese that is the classic accompaniment to osso buco. I can’t imagine that any of you would need an omelet recipe, but here goes anyway. The photos were actually taken in Provence a couple of weeks ago, and those are lactaires, or orange milk mushrooms in the photos. But you prepare chanterelles the same way. The pole beans are locally called cocos in France. They tasted like Kentucky Wonders to me.
First of all, you should clean the mushrooms with a soft brush or with a slightly damp — never wet — towel or paper towel. Do not wash the mushrooms or they will absorb water and lose their flavor. The idea is to cook out most of the water from the mushrooms so that their flavor is intensified. I usually put a little butter in the pan as well as a tiny bit of oil, and I add a minced shallot as well, cooking the mushrooms slowly until they have given off most of their liquid. It can take as much as a half-hour. Cook them slowly and taste them frequently, seasoning to taste with salt and pepper. When the mushrooms are cooked set them aside. Put plates in a low oven to stay warm while you cook one omelet at a time as follows:
2 tablespoons butter, plus butter for cooking the mushrooms (see above)
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
a garnish of freshly chopped chervil, chives, or parsley
Over medium high heat (preferably in an omelet pan), melt 2 tablespoons of butter while beating the eggs, seasoning them with salt and pepper. The butter will sputter and hiss for a minute. Swirl the butter around in the pan to coat the sides, then just at the moment that it stops hissing, pour the egg mixture into the pan all at once. Let the eggs set partially, then, using a wooden spatula, pull the omelet away from the edges of the pan toward the center and let some of the raw egg trickle out toward the edges so that it is more evenly cooked. As soon as the omelet is set again, add sautéed mushrooms and shallots to the center of the omelet as shown in the photo. Fold the outer third of the omelet over the center, then fold the entire omelet over again. Turn off the heat and let the omelet rest in the pan for a moment; it should puff up a little. Slide the omelet out onto a warm plate and top with the freshly cut herb of your choice (chervil is traditional). The entire cooking only takes a minute or two; the eggs inside the omelet should be very moist, slightly runny, and the earthiness of the mushrooms should nicely balance a fruity wine — red, white, or rosé. Why not something Provençal?
Risotto alla Milanese
This recipe makes two servings, but you can multiply it with no problems.
6 tablespoons butter, divided
1 shallot, chopped
7/8 cup Arborio rice
3 cups beef, veal, or chicken stock
3/8 cup dry white wine
1/2 teaspoon saffron powder or crumbled saffron threads
3/4 cup finely grated, but not packed, parmesan, divided
Melt half the butter in a medium-sized saucepan over low heat. Add the shallot and cook slowly until the shallot is very soft. Add the rice and turn up the heat to medium, stirring constantly and sautéing the rice until it is slightly toasted, about five minutes or until the rice begins to look opaque. Do not let the rice stick to the pan or burn. Add a ladle of stock to the rice and continue stirring constantly until the liquid is almost absorbed. Add more stock and continue stirring and adding more liquid, including the wine, until almost all of the liquid is absorbed and the rice is almost cooked al dente, like pasta. Stir in the rmeaining butter, the saffron, and half the cheese, cover, remove from the heat, and let sit for 4 or 5 minutes before serving, with the remaining parmesan on the side.
November 8, 2010 Home from my Honeymoon in France
First of all, let me apologize to my customers and fans. I got a new computer before I left for France, and we got new phone service from Verizon, which has not worked properly for a month. But I’m back in my office, so feel free to contact me now. We’re still working to get the phones fixed. I also have not posted anything on my blog because of not only being gone, but also because of a hand injury that has been very slow to heal. I can’t type for very long.
Mikel and I rented a house in Saint Antoine, a suburb of the antiques center, Isle sur la Sorgue, not far from Avignon. I’ll be writing about the process of renting a villa for the Washington Post next spring, but here’s the rental agency we used. An October 15, 2010, article in TIME magazine warned that officials are cracking down on short-term rentals because many home owners are not licensed to rent their properties; the article also warns of an increase in scams — that, according to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), claims of vacation rental frauds in the US were up 50% this past summer over 2009. I guess I’ve been lucky, for Mikel and I have rented apartments and houses in Ireland, Mexico, Genoa, Rome, and Sicily — not to mention the dozen beach houses we’ve rented on the southeastern seaboard — without problems. There have been a couple of disappointing bathrooms or beds or kitchens, but, to me, it’s worth it to have a kitchen so that I can shop in the local markets and cook the local food — to immerse myself in the culture and live like a local, so to speak. This was our first foray into Provence, and we were not disappointed. The first week, we were in the house alone, then two other couples (including Tom Sietsema, the restaurant critic for the Washington Post) came to join us the second. It was the height of mushroom/truffle season, and I cooked many meals at home, including several in the outdoor, wood-fired pizza oven (pictured above).
Our m.o. when we go on these trips is to take a collapsible, rolling cooler with us as one of of carry-ons, and to have one of those “blue ices” with us, which we store in the freezer of the home we’re renting, then put in the cooler each morning as we set out on our adventures. In Provence, we would drive to a town where it was market day, buy goodies for supper, then have a long, leisurely lunch, walking off the wine in the afternoon as we visited the local sites — wineries, ruins, museums, hilltop villages, and the stunning natural wonders of the area. We generally avoid fancy restaurants (which we also avoid back home), but our first full day, though we were late to the market on a blustery, mistral-blown day in Avignon, we did wander into the Michelin one-starred La Mirande, which had come highly recommended to us by several folks. When I asked for a table for two (it was nearly time for their last seating), the concierge all but smirked, “It’s brunch.” And, yes, it was indeed a brunch buffet, and the staff of pretty young things was obviously not thrilled to be working on Sunday morning. The service was off, but the food was delicious, and the people-watching was phenomenal.
There was a table of delicious oysters and house-smoked salmon, and several other cold dishes — salmon mousse; a vast array of salads featuring fish, beans, and marinated vegetables; and an embarrassment of pata negra, the luscious Iberian ham in the foreground of the photo at left. There was a mound of black truffles sitting by the young chefs at the omelet station. The meal, which was structured the same for all diners, went something like this: first the cold dishes, then an omelet (with perhaps some grilled prawns as well, sir?), then the leg of lamb from Sisteron, world-renowned and about the size of an American lamb shank, with hot vegetables. Then the cheese course. Then a world of desserts.
The restaurant and inn are housed in the former cardinal’s palace which is filled with antiques. It is a quiet respite from the usual crowds (there were none on the day of our visit because of the mistral). It is considered one of the region’s finest hotels. The bar is one of the most elegant I’ve ever seen, but I’ve known teenagers who could make better omelets (see photos). Mikel and I do not revere the temples of the Catholic church, so we left Avignon afterwards and drove east out to the stunning Roman Pont du Gard. (Yes, that’s the bar on the right, and, no, I did not take a bite out of the omelet before shooting it.) Much better omelets to come.
The Pont du Gard is a Roman-built, three-tiered bridge and aqueduct spanning the Gard River near Nîmes. It was built in 19 B.C. of giant stones so precisely cut and layered that it required no mortar. When I think of all the steel-reinforced concrete bridges built mid-century in America that are now collapsing, I am even more in awe of the engineering brilliance of the ancient Romans. After touring the impressive grounds for a couple of hours, we headed home, stopping by the small Domaine de L’Aqueduc vineyard outside the charming village of Uzès, to sample (and buy) and some of their Vin de Pays d’Oc — specifically, their newly designated Vin de Pay Duché d’Uzès. Their lighter Palombière (4 euros/bottle) of syrah and grenache is typical of the wines of the region, perfect with grilled meats and game birds; their top of the line La Garrigue de Bornègre (at 7.50 euros), was to be our bigger house red for the rest of the week. Made mostly of syrah aged for 18 months in oak, the wine is balanced with mourvèdre and grenache, all hand-picked at their ripest. Behind their cave, remnants of the Nîmes aqueduct cut through the property. Just the sort of unpretentious, quaffable, and inexpensive wines I was expecting to find throughout the region. Ironically, many of the wines, which are exactly the types of wines, from the same region, that I drink at home on a daily basis, were the real disappointment of the trip. More on that to follow, but every nasty red wine we tasted (and we tasted many) was organic. Many of the winemakers who are hopping on the organic bandwagon are even eschewing stainless steel for concrete! Some of the wines were so astingent and barnyardy (and not in a good way) that we couldn’t even swallow one sip. Don’t get me wrong: we had delicious wines, and every rosé we sampled was delightfully drinkable (and made in stainless steel). But we were recommended and served some truly undrinkable wines in some of the nicest restaurants in the area. Amazing.
This posting is continued in the Travel section under Provence.